March 17, 2011

Gaming bill will give monopoly to OPAP

The new gambling bill’s apparent favouritism towards Greek gaming company OPAP is leading to a complete monopoly in the sector, MPs warned yesterday.

The bill was re-tabled at the House Institutions and Legal Affairs Committees yesterday, after receiving the seal of approval from the European Commission.

The Attorney-general (AG) was summoned to yesterday’s meeting however to settle a dispute between the government and online casino operators.

The latter say the bill – drafted by the finance ministry – omitted to include OPAP in its ban on supplying online betting games, even though OPAP offers games of luck such as Joker, Proto and KINO.

AG Petros Clerides said the OPAP games were completely different, as they operate under an inter-state agreement and are not played by the player directly over the internet.

The Chairman of the House Finance Committee, DIKO’s Nicolas Papadopoulos, said the bill – which bans online casino games and regulates betting, while also imposing a 3.0 per cent tax on certain bets – was leading to a clear monopoly.

“The specific bill will not ban gambling, but legalise it and unfortunately it will legalise it for only one company, which will enjoy a monopoly,” said Papadopoulos, adding: “Of course I am referring to OPAP, a company which gained around €70 million in 2009, of which only a little over €1 million went to state coffers in the form of taxes.”

He said this bill would lead to a continuation of this monopoly and wondered why the finance ministry was attempting to abolish all of OPAP’s competitors in order to allow the organisation to profit millions from lucky games.

“Massive technical matters are raised over whether we can truly restrict gambling over the internet with legal bans,” said Papadopoulos. “We have our doubts over whether this could be a success; those who know how the internet works will know how easy it is for anyone to overcome any restrictions, any filters, in order to gamble on the internet and it is naïve to think that we can stop the phenomenon with filters and laws.”

The DIKO deputy was concerned that all the law would achieve would be to encourage gamblers to seek the services of the underworld and lead to the creation of a black market for gambling, which would lead to even less control than the state has now.

The Chairman of the House Institutions Committee, EVROKO’s Rikkos Erotokritou, said the Attorney-general’s explanations needed to be clarified further. “It seems that from the moment that there is a violation of the regulations for the protection of competition, it is OPAP and some subsidiary companies that will benefit from the introduction and implementation of this bill’s provisions,” said Erotokritou.

He added that this would lead to a monopoly, “which it is categorically banned from reason, but also the spirit of EU law.”

OPAP is a private Greek gaming company that operates on the island through its local counterpart, set up in 2003 following a bilateral agreement.

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